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Firefox for Windows 8 to run as single Metro and desktop app

The in-development browser will work as both a Metro and a desktop app, presenting some challenges for the Mozilla team. And it highlights a potential gotcha for Microsoft as well.

Firefox on Windows 8 will be designed to work in both the Metro and desktop environments. But getting there won't be easy.

While most software aimed for Windows 8 will be Metro apps or classic desktop apps, Firefox will fall into a third category, according to a blog post last Friday by Mozilla developer Brian Bondy.

Firefox will be considered a "Metro style enabled desktop browser." That means it will offer the power and flexibility of a classic Windows app when used on the desktop--but can also take advantage of Live Tiles and other Metro features when accessed from the new Start screen.

"Unlike Metro applications, Metro style enabled desktop browsers have the ability to run outside of the Metro sandbox," Bondy said. "Meaning not only can we build a browser, but we can build a powerful browser which gives an experience equal to that of a classic Desktop browser."

There are, of course, a couple of potential gotchas.

Supporting Firefox as a Metro app will entail a lot of new code. Bondy describes the effort as a "very large project." And since this is new territory for both Mozilla and Microsoft, there aren't a lot of guideposts for the development team.

"As a developer, your job gets pretty hard when you do a Google search for topics surrounding this barely supported third Metro application type and consistently get zero, one, or if you are lucky, two search results," Bondy added.

Another issue: this type of browser can only work in Metro mode if it's selected as the default browser. Otherwise it's limited to the desktop, Bondy explained, calling this a "decision made by Microsoft."

Such a limitation does present some complications, not just for Mozilla but for Microsoft.

If Internet Explorer or another browser is set as the default, then Firefox doesn't get a cozy spot on the Metro Start screen. Of course, a Windows 8 user can still pin the desktop version as a tile to the Start screen. But that tile will lack the features of a dedicated Metro app.

As designed for the Windows 8 beta, aka Consumer Preview, Internet Explorer 10 is installed as two separate versions--one for Metro and one for the desktop. Will IE become a Metro style enabled desktop browser or will it remain two different entities?

Neither Microsoft nor Mozilla immediately answered CNET's request for comment.

But Microsoft may be on tricky ground in the way it handles both its own browser and rival browsers in the new OS.

If the default browser is the only one that can work as both a full Metro app and a full desktop app, then that could stack the deck in favor of one browser over the others.

Microsoft is telling browser developers to code their apps to open in either Metro mode or desktop mode, depending on where users are when they click on a link, says the Verge. That could certainly alleviate the awkwardness that occurs when a Windows 8 user opens a program in one environment and gets kicked into the other environment.

But it remains to be seen exactly how Microsoft will juggle this third category for Web browsers to ensure a level playing field for IE and its competition.